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Friends, Family Mourn Shooting Victim : Simi Valley: Police say the teen-ager may be the city's first gang-related homicide. The accused killer is scheduled to be arraigned today.

April 04, 1995|SARA CATANIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Friday, waiter Raul Ordaz dashed from table to table at the Mexican restaurant where he worked, serving up steaming plates of enchiladas and tortillas and joking with his co-worker, Armando Rodriguez.

Monday, Ordaz hung his head in grief and recited a rosary over the dead 19-year-old.

Rodriguez was fatally shot Saturday afternoon while walking with friends on a busy Simi Valley street. Police say the shooting may be the first-ever gang-related homicide in the city.

The crime has shocked many residents, concerned that gang violence is creeping into a city known as the safest of its size. Typically, Simi Valley has just one homicide a year.

But the slaying evoked only sorrow and despair among those who knew Rodriguez.

"I got to work on Saturday and I was looking for Armando, and somebody told me he was dead," Ordaz said. "I have a son that age. I could not believe it."

At a daylong vigil honoring the slain youth Monday, friends and family members filled a small Simi Valley chapel, wailing and praying over his body. One by one they paid homage, stroking his face and weeping beside the teen-ager's cloth-lined casket.

Overcome with grief at the death of her oldest child, Alicia Rodriguez could hardly speak. This was not the future she envisioned when she and her three children moved from Guadalajara seven years ago to join her husband and seek a better life.

"He was a happy boy," she said in barely audible Spanish. "I loved him very much."

Across town, friends placed roses, carnations and candles on the sidewalk along 1st Street south of Los Angeles Avenue where Rodriguez was shot in the chest.

*

The shooting occurred as Rodriguez walked with two friends to visit Javier Moran, whom Rodriguez had met seven years before. After learning that they both had come from Guadalajara, they became fast friends, attending Sinaloa Junior High and Royal High School together and playing basketball every day after school.

Saturday morning shortly before noon, Moran was in bed waiting for Rodriguez to arrive when he heard gunfire. He ran toward the shots and recognized his friend's body by his white Reeboks.

While police have not confirmed the shooting was gang-related, they have said that both Ramirez and Rodriguez were gang members.

*

Reflecting on his friend's life, Moran said Rodriguez was involved in a Los Angeles-based gang, but said he did not know why anyone would want to kill him.

"He started going that way about a year ago," Moran said. "But no one has the right to take a life."

Moran said the shooting suspect, Victor Gabriel Ramirez, is a member of a rival Simi Valley gang said to congregate around California Avenue and 4th Street, near the site where Rodriguez was shot.

Ramirez was arrested on suspicion of murder after he turned himself in Saturday. He is scheduled to be arraigned today.

Simi Valley police, who for several years have aggressively sought to squelch gang activity in the city, say they are stepping up patrols in the area in the wake of the shooting.

Police are keeping a close watch to ensure that revenge killings do not follow Rodriguez's death, Lt. Tony Harper said. So far, they have seen little response to the death.

"We will keep the lid on any uprising that may occur," Harper said. "If this is indeed a gang homicide, it will be the first in the city. When something like this does occur, it is a shock to the community."

No one was more shocked than Alicia Rodriguez and her husband, Refugio, who pampered their oldest son as much as their modest means would allow.

In their cramped two-bedroom apartment, Armando was the only one with his own room. Alicia and Refugio shared one bedroom while the other two children, Victor, 17, and Norma, 15, slept on couches in the living room.

"He was the oldest," Victor said simply. "That's just how it was."

Times photographer Carlos Chavez contributed to this report.

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